For Vietnam veteran Calvin Andrew and countless others who served in that war, Veterans Day can be bittersweet.
It brings back thoughts of comrades killed in action and others who died early deaths after coming home.
Veterans Day “just brings back bad memories about those who have gone before me and didn’t have a chance to have a life,“ Andrew, 73, said Monday at a Freeport Recreation Center event commemorating the American Legion's centennial.
But he and others at the commemoration, organized by local officials and American Legion Post 342, also felt gratitude that people now honor their service, decades after the war sharply divided the country.
“It makes us feel good to know we are appreciated for what we have done for the country,” said Coy Richardson, 71, who served with the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
While many Vietnam veterans “came back unappreciated, now it is coming out to light that we did what we had to do,“ he said.
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy said “it’s a great day“ honoring the men and women who “made this country what it is today — the best country in the world.”
The event featured veterans from as far back as World War II, including one who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I never thought I would make it," said Vincent Greco, 94, who was an infantryman during the famous battle against Nazi troops toward the end of the war.
"It’s a day to sit back … and think about the things that have passed, the good things and the bad things that we experienced, but they were all for a purpose," Greco said. "And the purpose is what we have today. We might be a little disassociated with each other, but we are still the greatest country in the world."
Monday's event also showcased the potential next generation of military service members and leaders, as the Freeport High School Navy Jr. ROTC put on a demonstration of some of their skills.
Veterans and officials took pains to remember those who are still missing in action, or who are believed to be prisoners of war.
More than 78,000 Americans are still unaccounted for from World War II, 8,100 from the Korean War, 120 from the Cold War, 1,810 from Vietnam, and three from the Gulf War, said Ed Martin, commander of American Legion Post 342 in Freeport.
Organizers set up a small table honoring the POW/MIA soldiers.
It had a white tablecloth, a black napkin with the POW/MIA symbol on it, a plate, utensils, an upside down glass, a candle, a salt shaker, a rose and a small American flag — set as if to welcome them upon their return.
The local American Legion post, one of the oldest on Long Island, is named after William Clinton Story, who was one of the first people from Freeport to die in World War I.
After finishing No. 2 in his class at Freeport High School in 1908, Story attended Princeton University. He graduated with honors and enlisted in the military, hoping to become an aviator. But he died during a training exercise near Memphis, Tennessee.
The Freeport post has had hundreds of members over the years, said Ed Dukich, its current first vice commander.
“The history of the post is rich," Dukich said, "and we continue to want to do more for the community, advocate for the disabled veterans, the homeless veterans."